Looking at the past and seeing today

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their understanding of history.” [George Orwell]

Alan Baker: “Israel has for years waged a hasbara campaign based on apologies. We have to operate out of a sense of advancing our rights, the rights of the Jewish people as an indigenous nation in its land and stress that what we are dealing with is not occupation.”[Quoted by Nadav Shagrai, Israel Hayom.]

The New World Order is dead – the truth is there never was one. What we have instead is a world of myths. We are able to muster truths through selective historians. Barbara Tuchman, historian par excellence; ” it was, [she argued], an easy, if unhappy, case to be made at the time . [As it is now.] A century that took shape in the disillusion which followed the enormous effort and hopes of World War 1″ she wrote, “that saw revolution in Russia congeal into the same tyranny it overthrew, saw a supposedly civilized nation revert under the Nazis into organized and unparalleled savagery, saw the craven appeasement by the democracies, is understandably marked by suspicion of human nature.”

Perhaps a greater observation by Tuchman is her understanding o f “a phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit of governments of policies contrary to their own interests.”
The revisionist history of certain Arab states and the PLO and the reaction by Jews is a classical representative of the given subject. Let us commence at the beginning. A basic error among Jews, be they of the Diaspora or Israeli, is to select the 1948 Independence War or the Six Day War. Flavius Josephus lived during the years 37 C.E. through C.100 and even to this day is the subject of debates as to whether he was a loyal Jew or a traitor. This tends to be academic in that even among his greatest detractors, they concede his writings are probably the most important on the Jewish Wars during Temple times.

Interestingly, on the question of Masada, without Josephus, we would have little idea of what really happened there and indeed the surrounding area following the destruction of the Temple.The word Palestine is nowhere to be found in the subject history nor during Masada nor the Bar-Kokhba Rebellion. By referring to Arabians, Josephus means from Arabia and not Jerusalem.

Around 2010, Shlomo Avineri penned a useful insight into Josephus’s “The Jewish Wars” in Haaretz, which he entitled, “Josephus the Zionist”. In answer to the question who were the Jews who waged war on the Romans, Josephus answers, they are a nation. He carefully distinguishes between his strong distaste for the given aggression of the so-called Zealots and his characterization of the war itself. He recognized the war of the Jews as a nation against the Roman Empire, the uprising commencing as a trivial land dispute between Jews and Greco-Syrians in Caesarea. With the rebellion spreading, it increasingly came to resemble a war of liberation. Throughout history, Jews are not known as aggressors, but are known for “the power of the few who are willing to sacrifice” for their rights.

The religious component is not the decisive one for Josephus, unlike Antiochus, as the Romans did not infringe on Jewish ritual and even respected it. “The war of the Jews against the Romans was the greatest of our time; greater too, perhaps than any recorded struggle, whether between cities or nations.” Josephus reminds us that there were Jews who fought side by side with Greco-Syrians against Jewish rebels, who attacked the city. From this one gathers that unlike today, neither group was resistant to fighting, but differed in their assessment of how best to gain security.

Josephus identified several specific incidents as causes for the Jewish revolt, while emphasizing the cruelty and corruption of the Roman administrators, particularly those serving under Emperor Nero. He also singles out the Jewish “rebels” [radical Zionists ? ]who imitated the wars.

Josephus situates the Jewish war against the Romans within a long history of Jewish resistance to foreign rule. Avineri notes that all of those nations who acted rationally, as advocated by Agrippa and Harkabi, disappeared and became extinct. The only people to survive culturally, socially, and now as a state as well – is the one who made the choice to rebel.

While the Jews suffered destruction and resultant exile, within the twisted paths of history and despite its many trials and tribulations, they continued to exist and did not perish. “A harsh conclusion, but one whose cruel, internal dialectical logic cannot be denied.”

Moving onto the era of British rule in Palestine, which lasted roughly thirty years from 1917 to 1948; history which is typically mistaken in crediting its conclusion to the efforts of Ben Gurion and his followers. Not so says the ever astute Winston Churchill. He outwardly recognized the extraordinary efforts of the Jewish revolutionaries as opposed to the diplomats.

Following his deposal as British prime minister, Churchill attended an event in the home of financier- statesman Bernard Baruch, as did showman Billy Rose. Apparently, Churchill asked Rose, “Billy, weren’t you part of the Irun ?”; to which Rose timidly answered, “Well Ben Hecht got me involved, but I didn’t know much about it.” Churchill’s response, “Don’t apologize Billy, if it wasn’t for those guys, we’d still be in Palestine.”

“The Revolt”, Menachem Begin’s recall of the history of the Irgun is undoubtedly well known. This is not so in the case of Ezra Yakhin’s “Elnakam” in which he details the “Story of a fighter for the freedom of Israel.” It relates to Yakhin’s experience in Lehi, more commonly known as the “Stern Gang”.

Surprisingly, Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel remarked following his reading of the book, “My deepest regret is that I was not in Eretz Yisrael during the years of the revolution when I would have joined the Lehi. I read your personal story with true excitement. I am sure that many will learn from your experiences what love of Israel really is.”

In the words of Yadkin, a constant source of bitterness was the indifference of our own people who watched Lehi struggle from a distance with a complete lack of comprehension. When expressing his feelings, Wiesel would have omitted the word “comprehension.”

The 1939 British White Paper departed radically from the 1920 San Remo Conference, the original White Paper of 1922, and the 1923 Palestine Mandate. It signaled Britain’s readiness to relegate the Jews in Palestine to minority status in a future majority-Arab state.

Thus, “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine” and “it is essential that it [the Jewish people] should know that it is in Palestine as of right and not on sufferance” and “shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions” was demonstrably absent. Already on June 29 1938, the British had demonstrated their sense of justice with the hanging of Shlomo Ben Josef, the first of many to follow.

On November 6, 1944, Lord Moyne, Leader of the House of Lords, Secretary of State for the Colonies and Resident Minister in Cairo, renowned as an opponent of the Jews throughout his career as Colonial Secretary was assassinated by the Irgun’s Eliyahu Hakim and Bet Zuri. Subsequently they were hanged by the British on March 23, 1945. This resulted in a particularly nasty period termed the “Hunting Season” or plainly “Season” inaugurated by the Haganah, whereby persecution of the Irgun took the form of hounding and turning over Irgun members to the British became common place. [P59/60] As per Yakhin; “—its worst climax—-when leaders of the ‘Organized Community’ reacted with unbridled fury.’ [P78]

From former PM Yitzhak Shamir, “Ezra Yakhin has graphically recaptured the dedication, self-sacrifice and courage of the fighters for the freedom of Israel in the forties. As one of the most outstanding of the fighters in the ranks of the Lehi, he made a significant contribution to the attainment of our goals. Their example will be an inspiration for our young people in future generations.”

Elnakam brings to mind all the horrific events of a two front war when “The Power of the few who are willing to sacrifice” confronted both the British and the Arabs. Commencing with the observation that two thousand years after the Roman occupation the Hebrews were again engaged in a war for freedom. And questioning where was the victorious Roman Empire now, and the proud Roman people, where were they today [P106/7], he moves us through the “extra measures taken against the dissident ‘terrorists’ by the British [P156/7] culminating in the hanging of Dov Gruner, Mordechai Alkachi,Yehiel Drezner and Elizar Kashani on April 16, 1947. This after the classic escape from the infamous Acre fortress on May 4, 1947 and recapture.

Yakhin describes an incident concerning the amazing virtuous “prisoner’s rabbi” Aryeh Levin when Meir Feinstein and Moshe Barazani were facing the gallows. The British decided to call the aged Rabbi who, fearing that his weak heart wouldn’t stand the strain declined. He also insisted that people about to be martyred had no need of confession. The two who had enjoyed a close relationship with the rabbi elected to kill themselves by detonating a bomb pressed between their two bodies rather than giving the British the satisfaction of hanging them. [P182]

Elnakam includes information on the Altelena ship affair where Ben Gurion’s hatred of the Irgun eroded his judgment thus directing the bombing of the vessel loaded with weaponry intended for all the parties at war with the British and the Arabs.[P298] We learn later that some of the weaponry could have prevented the loss of Jerusalem.

In more recent times, Bruce Hoffman has authored, “Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel 19-1947” reviewed for Haaretz on March 25, 2015 by Rafael Medoff. The latter casts it as a fresh look at how the Jews drove the British out of Palestine.

That it is “fresh” because the author makes extensive use of many documents of declassified British intelligence documents not previously available, does not ensure complete accuracy. As Medoff explains, Hoffman could have pointed to the human consequences of the 1939 White Paper whereby Jewish immigrants were sent back to their deaths in Nazi Europe, which drove the Irgun to take up arms when they did.

Correctly, he notes that the continued enforcement of the White Paper went very far toward meeting the Arab’s demand to prevent Jewish immigration. Further, the subject documents did offer a revealing look at British perceptions of the revolt, “the factors that shaped British efforts to stamp out the violence and the reasons that ultimately led to England’s defeat and withdrawal from Palestine.”

As stated by Yakhin, “It had become clear to the British that they could no longer rule our country unchallenged.” [P230] This despite concerted efforts of sadistic reprisals, firing on private homes, deporting Jewish “illegal immigrants”, arresting and killing civilians. Simultaneously, Haj Amin El Husseini, Hitler’s collaborator had directed the massacre of Gush Ethicon Jews and become the idol of the Arabs. [P261]

Ezra Yakhin fought. He killed. He conquered. He even lost one eye in battle which was replaced by a glass one. He was a normal Jewish man who led what seemed to be a normal , even boring life in pre-state Israel. But Ezra Yakhin was anything but. As a young man, Yakhin was a postman by day, a Lechi fighter by night.

Will our leaders at last get the message, one built on history and truth? To persist in considering a people without a history as a partner for peace and to ignore the Gaza experiment, is simply ludicrous.

About the Author
Alex Rose was born in South Africa in 1935 and lived there until departing for the US in 1977 where he spent 26 years. He is an engineering consultant. For 18 years he was employed by Westinghouse until age 60 whereupon he became self-employed. He was also formerly on the Executive of Americans for a Safe Israel and a founding member of CAMERA, New York (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America and today one of the largest media monitoring organizations concerned with accuracy and balanced reporting on Israel). In 2003 he and his wife made Aliyah to Israel and presently reside in Ashkelon.